There were six #3s. They had 7Q to feed the six of them, plus Lisa and baby Kai. Two of them also had to pick up trash.
There were three #2s. They were given a budget of 25Q each to go out to dinner together.
There was only one #1. I had an unlimited budget, and the chance to venture out to the ritzy town of San Pedro for a night out.
We knew not what the others were doing.
And so, at the end of the night, the three groups were brought together, sat in a circle, and told to tell about their experiences. Group #3 was quite hungry, having had eaten, collectively, one bag of rice noodles. Two of them also recounted their fright when an animal had crawled out of the trash they had been tasked with collecting. Group #2 felt a touch awkward telling of their experience, for they, admittedly, had quite enjoyed it. A great meal, great company, and a great time overall. Their night had taken them to a restaurant, heladería, and even a basketball court to pass the time. I, in turn, showed everyone photos of Alan and I lakeside, and the quaint Israeli restaurant we happened upon. I gave a breakdown of the 237Q we spent. The brownie we ate which cost more than Group #3’s whole meal.
The activity was poignant in its impermanence. Our #3s are just not poor. Our #2s can afford to indulge themselves and splurge every once in awhile. And I? I suppose this is where I feel the contradiction. I am just not the wealthiest. Just not rolling in an infinite budget. Within the company I keep, here and at home, I may not always be in the .01%. But the thing is. Relatively. I absolutely am.
Poignant in its impermanence, but also its reality. Sure, we may not necessarily stack up like we did last night. But for three hours of our lives, we lived as if we did. For three hours which we’ll never get back, we were scavengers, money conscious Joe’s, and aristocrats. Some of us really were hungry. Some of us really were gifted with a game of basketball and lovely conversation. I really did adventure out; had some great hummus and dessert. Fun, some might say. But Luke and Henry really did pick up trash. Transient, yet permanent.
So what do we do with this? What was the purpose of all this? Perhaps: To realize that while we’re living comfortably here in San Juan, that’s just not the reality for all of Guatemala. Over 50% of the population lives below the national poverty line. What may be roughing it for one, is luxury for another. To notice that we spend what we can. All that we can. To recognize that the money we can spend decides the company we can keep. To question whether having money dictates, ethically, that you can use it. Whether to be able to do something means that you can. Should? To understand that poder = poder. To be able to begets power. Power is born of the ability to do. Son los mismos, iguales.
You know, there’s this peanut butter pie I love to bake. It includes toffee, dark chocolate, coffee, peanut butter, and cream cheese. I bake it because I can. I love it. It makes me happy. Is that not reason enough to do it? Even if, in the back of my mind, I know not everyone can? If I claim to be woke, is my action an act of hypocrisy? Or do I sit content, and sigh, “Oh, how easy it is to be ignorant.”
Dragons, I’m told, has in the past been faced with the peculiar problem of aiming to expose us students to an authentic way of life, while at the same time knowing that there exists a line which can not be crossed. To use the word Alan did, we can not risk becoming traumatized. We can not eat the animal’s intestines, see, even if be it the most logical thing. Physically, psychologically- our culture has limited us. It is possible that we would simply not be capable of experiencing that which is equally authentic to that which we live now. Equally authentic, yet unequally permissible. Accessible. (A cultural restriction which does, it is worth mentioning, go both ways. We live what we know. What is “other” shocks us, then, to no end. Leaving me asking myself if I too would have done the logical thing.)
So let’s consider, for a moment, my privilege checked. Ignorant, ungrateful, near-sighted and self-absorbed I am not. I know just how very lucky I am to bake my peanut butter pies. Or to attend a rigorous prep school, and a rigorous college. Or to have a car of my own. Or to be healthy. Not hungry. Not cold. Not dirty. To be wrapped in layers of protection from the inside out. I know, and I give thanks every day. Maybe I even volunteer occasionally. You know, just to try and even the unbalanced scale that is privilege just a teeny bit more.
None of this changes the fact that eight people share a 7Q meal, and go to bed hungry because of it.
The tragedy is this: we could give all we have to these people. Podemos. Tenemos el poder. Yet we don’t, and pause to wonder if this makes us bad people. As the Mayan girl yells from behind monastery bars, so too do we yell-
I am not a sinner!
I am not a sinner.